A U.S. military appeals court has overturned the conviction of an Australian man who was held in Guantanamo Bay and found guilty years ago of material support for a terrorist organization. David Hicks has told a news conference in Sydney that he did not intend to seek an official apology or compensation for his five-and-a-half year ordeal in the U.S. prison camp in Cuba.
David Hicks was the first person to be convicted at a U.S. war crimes trial since the World War II.
The former kangaroo hunter was captured with Taliban forces in Afghanistan in late 2001. He was held at Guantanamo Bay from January 2002 until May 2007, when he pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism. In a plea bargain, all but nine months of his sentence were suspended and he was allowed to return home to Australia, where he was imprisoned until the end of his term behind bars.
On Wednesday, a U.S. military appeals court threw out his conviction because the activity for which he was found guilty did not become a crime until years after he was captured in Afghanistan.
The 39-year old Hicks spoke to the media at a news conference in Sydney on Thursday.
“I am sure no one is surprised by today's long-awaited acknowledgement by the government of the United States of America of my innocence. Even the Australian government has admitted that I committed no crime. It is just unfortunate that because of politics I was subjected to five-and-a-half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always,” said Hicks.
David Hicks has rarely spoken in public and remains a polarizing figure. To some Australians he is a traitor who admitted supporting extremism, while others believe he is a victim of rough justice.
In 2000, Hicks was in Pakistan, where he trained with the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was later designated by Washington as a foreign terrorist organization. Hicks traveled to Afghanistan in early 2001 and attended a training camp run by al-Qaida. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, he was captured in Baghlan, Afghanistan by Northern Alliance fighters and turned over to the United States. He was among the first group of prisoners transferred to Guantanamo Bay.
His father, Terry, who has long campaigned on his son’s behalf, said there will be some Australians who will not accept the court’s decision.
“We are still going to have the people out there that are going to say, ‘who cares whether he has been found not guilty?’ As far as they are concerned he is, but that is their way of going about things. From our point of view the courts have said he is not guilty and that is what we accept and it is a great feeling,” said Hicks.
Australia has been accused in the past of doing little to help one of two of its citizens who were held at Guantanamo Bay. Asked about the overturning of David Hicks’ terror-related conviction, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the nation should not “fret about an old terrorist threat” but focus on current dangers.